We are the dead. Short days agoWe lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glowLoved and were loved, and now we lieIn Flanders fields. Canadian soldier John McCrae wrote these famous lines during WWI at the Battle of Ypres Salient. What the Germans believed would be a quick, sweeping victory quickly became a vicious stalemate that defined the horrors of WWI; chemical warfare was used for the first time in Western history. In four years of intense fighting, 450,000 people died here. Ypres (pop. 35,000), once a medieval textile center, was completely destroyed by the long combat, but was rebuilt as a near-perfect replica of its former self. Today, the town is surrounded by over 150 British cemeteries and filled with memorial sites, drawing soldiers’ families as well as many British tourists and school groups.
In the Cloth Hall, one of the grand medieval guild halls that preside over Grote Markt, the Flanders Reid Museum, Grote Markt 34, documents the gruesome history and bloody battles of the Great War. (Open Apr.-Sept. daily 10am-6pm; Oct.-Mar. Su and Tu-Sa 10am-5pm. ‚7.50.) Next door stands the splendid Gothic Saint Martin’s Cathedral. Cross the street in front of St. Martin’s and head right to reach the Anglican Saint George’s Memorial Church, Elverdingsestr. 1. Each brass plaque and kneeling pillow in the church commemorates a specific individual or unit. (Both churches open daily except during services. Free.) Across the markt, the names of 54,896 British soldiers who were lost in the trenches are inscribed on the somber Menin Gate. At 8pm each evening, the Last Post bugle ceremony honors those who defended Ypres. You can easily walk the circumference of Ypres along the old ramparts. From Menin Gate, take the Rose Coombs Walk to visit the nearby Ramparts Cemetery, where row upon row of white crosses face the river. The battlefields are largely inaccessible by foot, so car tours are a good, if pricey option. Two companies, Flanders Battlefield Tours (360 460. www.ypres-fbt.be; ‚16-22), and Salient Tours (214 657. www.salienttours.com; ‚15- 21), offer informative tours that traverse the surrounding battlefields.
Trains run to: Bruges via Courtrai (2hr. ‚9); Ghent (lhr. ‚8.50); and Brussels (lV£hr. ‚14). To get to the Visitors Center, housed in the Cloth Hall in Grote Markt from the train station, head straight down Stationsstr. turn left onto Tempelstr. then turn right onto Boterstr. (22 85 84; www.ieper.be. Open Apr.-Sept. M-Sa 9am-6pm, Su 10am-6pm; Oct.-Mar. M-Sa 9am-5pm, Su 10am-5pm.) The Hortensla , Rijselsestr. 196, is a bed & breakfast with great rooms and a friendly owner. From the Grote Markt, turn onto Rijselsestr. and continue for lOmin. (21 24 06. Singles ‚46, doubles ‚54, triples ‚69.) Many restaurants line the Grote Markt, including I’nt Klein Stadhuis , a traditional pub and restaurant with a terrace. The Super GB grocery store is at Vandepeereboomplein 15. (Open M-Sa 9am-7pm.)